While Cam Newton is the odds-on favorite to start at quarterback for New England in Week 1, there are a few factors to consider that could help Jarrett Stidham’s case.
It wasn’t too long ago that we were discussing who would win the Patriots’ starting quarterback competition between Stidham and Brian Hoyer. Post-Tom Brady, the Patriots’ QB options earlier this offseason were a retread veteran backup in Hoyer and a talented but inexperienced player in Stidham. Nobody could be blamed for lacking enthusiasm about choosing between them after having watched Brady for the past 20 years.
The signing of former NFL MVP Cam Newton, however, completely changes any conversations about the Patriots’ plans at quarterback, and significantly elevates the talent ceiling at the position heading into the 2020 season.
By signing Newton to a one-year minimum deal worth up to $7.5 million, the race for the starting quarterback job in Foxborough now appears to be between two former Auburn Tigers quarterbacks, Newton and Stidham. Even the official depth chart on the team’s website has both Newton and Stidham listed as the starting quarterback.
The debate over Stidham vs. Newton is a much more entertaining one than Stidham vs. Hoyer. It’s not a lock yet to declare Newton the runaway favorite to be the Patriots’ starting QB in Week 1. In a vacuum, Newton has the talent and the resume to be the superior option to Stidham, but there are several factors that will come into play in training camp that could sway the competition in Stidham’s favor.
Familiarity with the playbook.
There is still much unknown about the timeline for NFL football in 2020 amidst the coronavirus pandemic. The league and its players have yet to come to an agreement on health and safety protocols, and while training camps are set to begin on July 28, individual state mandates and guidelines could impact teams’ ability to begin training camp if large group gatherings are banned again.
With the potential for an already-shortened training camp to further be cut down due to the coronavirus, this could be a major impediment for Newton’s push to win the starting job this summer. Newton can spend all the time in the world studying the New England playbook on his own, but without the proper number of on-field reps with his new teammates, he could struggle to get up to speed in what is sure to be a fast-paced training camp this summer.
Stidham, on the other hand, has the benefit of a year in the Patriots offense under his belt. While the New England offense is expected to undergo some changes this season, Stidham still has more familiarity with the coaching staff, his teammates, and the general verbiage of the New England offense. That should aid him in his competition with Newton.
Fit in new-look Patriots offense
As New England shows signs of becoming a run-first, power scheme offense in 2020, starting a quarterback that is just as much of a threat with his legs as he is in arm in Cam Newton would add another problem for opposing defenses to prepare for, and would help the offensive transition to a more ground-based attack.
Newton, as detailed in our breakdown of his game here, has plenty of experience running the ball out of the zone read, RPO plays, and even the triple option. If he is healthy enough and hasn’t lost any explosion or agility, Newton’s running ability makes him a better fit for what New England’s offense could look like in 2020.
But don’t completely discount Stidham here either. Coming out of high school, in fact, Stidham was known as the top dual-threat quarterback recruit in the nation. At Auburn, Stidham ran a decent amount of RPO plays, and as explained in our breakdown of Stidham’s preseason tape from 2019, the second-year signal caller can make plays on the ground too.
Both quarterbacks can make plays with their feet, but only one quarterback is a former NFL MVP and someone who has proven he can win at the highest levels. Newton should have the leg up here.
The greatest question of them all with Newton: at 31 years old, are the recent injuries that have sidelined him anomalies, or signs of deteriorating health for a player who has taken a lot of hits on the football field in his career?
Newton’s most recent injury that sidelined him for most of the 2019 regular season, a Lisfranc injury that required surgery, is a concerning one for an athlete who relies on his mobility to make a lot of plays. Lisfranc injuries tend to take a while to fully heal, and can become re-aggravated if athletes come back too soon.
If Newton is not at 100 percent, the door opens even more for Stidham to win the job with a strong training camp performance of his own. Even if Newton does win the competition, having a capable backup quarterback waiting in the wings like Stidam will be key, as Newton hasn’t played a full season in three of the last four.
For all the talent that Stidham has, it could be that the 4th-round draft pick from 2019 simply needs some more time adjusting to the NFL before he is ready to push for starting position. Just like Newton could be affected by the shortened training camp, so too could Stidham, who will need all the reps he can get to show his teammates and coaches that he is ready to make the jump and become an NFL starting quarterback.
Newton, on the other hand, has taken a team to a Super Bowl already, has won an MVP, and is a well-liked figure in the locker room. When it comes to the resumes of both quarterbacks, there’s no competition here. Newton has the edge.